RandBall

Michael Rand started RandBall with hopes that he could convince the world to love jumpsuits as much as he does. So far, he's only succeeded in using the word "redacted" a lot. He welcomes suggestions, news tips, links of pure genius, and pictures of pets in Halloween costumes here, though he already knows he will regret that last part.

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Nuclear Wessel: The return of the English Premier League

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated November 21st at 3:17pm 283523531

nuclearDana Wessel produces the K-TWIN Morning Show with Rider, Eric Perkins and Rena Sarigianopoulos on 96.3 K-TWIN Monday-Friday 5:30am-10:00am.

Welcome, Nuclear Warheads! We’re back!

Those annoying, meaningless international breaks that buzzkill (especially if you’re a US fan) our weekends are done for the foreseeable future. I can’t stand breaks during the Premier League season. I legitimately pout. You know that feeling where you have a cool dream and then wake up and realize it wasn’t real? That’s me on Fridays of international breaks. Weekend is here! Yes! Oh. No Premier League. I guess I have to talk myself into being interested in the Gophers. Sweet. That’s me. Sad, I know. I also get emotionally invested in Jeopardy tournaments. Anybody wanna be friends?!

Lets take a quick glance at the table before we get to a spicy little slate of round 12 matches.

Chelsea remain unbeaten (with a pair of draws at each Manchester stadium) and on top of the table. None of the traditional powers even seem to be able to give them a run at this point. Manchester City sit in third (21 points), Arsenal in sixth (17 points), Manchester United in 8th (16 points) and Liverpool in 11th (14 points *fart noise).

The closest challenge to Chelsea are Southampton. They sit just four points off the pace (and have only given up 5 goals! Seriously.) but if you think they’ll be around in May I’ll mow your lawn with a pair of scissors.

Some say that the title race is over and all that is left is the scraps for the 5 or 6 teams that can make a legit case for the other three Champions League spots. I wouldn’t go quite that far. It’s November.

Also, before we get to the slate. Don’t forget about the MLS Conference Championships this Sunday.

  • New York vs New England at 12:30 on NBC Sports Network

  • Seattle vs Los Angeles at 4:00 on ESPN

No. 1: Chelsea vs West Brom at Stamford Bridge

When: Saturday at 9:00am on NBC Sports Network

Last year: Chelsea got bailed out late, late, late, late with an Eden Hazard penalty (90+6) in this one a year ago to salvage a 2-2 tie and preserve Jose Mourinho’s unbeaten streak at Stamford Bridge for at least a few more months.

Chelsea return from the break riding high after their 2-1 comeback win at Anfield two weeks ago. It was nice to see the goal-line technology used correctly to get the right call. Chelsea fans just wish they had that in Champions League in 2005. Crazy to think about how history would be different if it had been Chelsea in Istanbul and not Liverpool. Regardless if they won or not, soccer history would be completely changed. Funny sport sometimes.

They face a janky West Brom team that has won just two of their last six – and those two came against Burnley and Leicester City. They shouldn’t pose much of a threat to a Chelsea team that came back from international duty unscathed.

A Chelsea win (or tie) will continue to push the ‘can they go undefeated?!?’ as the hottest hot-take storyline of the season. I get why it is being tossed around. This season has been low on drama and high on mediocrity. We need some fuel to keep the HotTake Machine burning.

But the undefeated talk is all nonsense. Chelsea have mowed through the competition thus far, minus a pair of late equalizers in Manchester, but they’ve looked anything but invincible at times. Every win since October 4th has been by just a goal. Also, with the busy holiday stretch coming up, they are destined to dump one at some point. And this is coming from the guy who has predicted Chelsea will win Champions League every year for the past decade. Obviously hope it doesn’t happen. Just being realistic.

As far as Saturday goes, both Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas didn’t play for Spain last week because of minor injuries but both are fine to play against Albion.

It won’t be a walk for Chelsea. Despite not winning at Stamford Bridge in their last eight, West Brom know they can get a result there. Still, you have to like Chelsea’s chances.

No. 2: Arsenal vs Manchester United at Emirates Stadium

When: Saturday at 11:30am on Big Boy NBC

Last year: A snoozer of a scoreless draw at the Emirates last February between these two. This match took place a week after Arsenal fell out of first place for the first time since September and was the start of their inevitable journey back down to fourth.

Man, remember when this used to be a massive, title-deciding match? Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

This is kinda like when you drive by Mystic Lake and see a former big-time band up on the marquee playing a Wednesday night gig. Just kinda sad.

Your eyes still pop when you see this kind of fixture show up but it doesn’t have nearly the same luster. Can you remember the last time a match between these two in November had zero implications on the top of the table?

But despite the historic ineptitude (for their standards) of these two big clubs, it is still an intriguing match for one and all for two reasons.

  1. If you love either club, this is a huge match as far as finishing in the top four.

  2. If you don’t love either of these clubs, it is hilarious to watch them crumble

Also, you just know there will be drama. Former Manchester United striker Danny Welbeck was sold to Arsenal in August after manager Louis van Gaal said he wasn’t up to the standard they set at Old Trafford. Harsh. Welbeck is fit after an injury scare while with England last week.

You know he will be out for blood. This just seems like one of those tailor made storylines for the Premier League. I just hope when Welbeck scores he moons van Gaal.

This one is on at the same time as the Gopher/Nebraska game. Perfect thing to flip to during timeouts/when the Gophers employees are housing Dilly Bars at halftime.

No. 3: Crystal Palace vs Liverpool at Selhurst Park

When: Sunday at 7:30 on…CNBC? Uh, OK. CNBC. Sweet. Your guess is as good as mine what channel that is. I’ll be ‘that guy’ on Twitter frantically asking what channel it is at like 7:28 on Sunday morning. I’ll retweet my answer.

Last year: Ah, yes. Liverpool remember this one well. Coming off that 2-0 slip-up to Chelsea at Anfield, Liverpool were still top of the table and needed all 3 points. They were up 3-rip and loving life. Then Palace scored 3 goals in nine minutes and ended Liverpool’s dream season. As far as stomach punches go, this one is right up there.

If last season was the season where everything went right (save for Rounds 36 and 37), this is the season where everything goes wrong.

It came out this week that Daniel Sturridge is going to be out for another 6 weeks, meaning his return won’t come until after the calendar flips. That’s a real can of creamed corn to the crotch for what little top four hopes they may still have.

Liverpool have only managed 14 goals in 12 games and Liverpool sit in 11th place in the table. They were relying on Sturridge to come back this week or next to try to jumpstart the frozen-over car battery that has been their attack lately. But now that won’t happen and it doesn’t even look like they’ll have him over the messy holiday fixture schedule.

Liverpool are in a bad spot right now. It looked like Liverpool’s return to the top four last year would be the start of a sustained return to glory but it now looks like it was just a one-off and they’ll continue to mire in the mediocrity that has defined them the last few years.

But the good news for Liverpool is they get a Palace team that barely has their head above the drop zone. Liverpool have two wins in five matches away from Anfield this season. Any more dropped points is going to put them further behind the top-four pace.

Their best-bet now is to get Sturridge back on the field as quickly as possible and open up the purse strings in January to buy some defenders. There backline is sloppier than a drunken political debate at the Thanksgiving table. You just have to wonder if they will be so far out of it come January that it won’t even matter.

Alright, that’ll do it for this week. Enjoy the matches and stay outta trouble out there.

Until next time, keep your studs down and your sheets clean.

Friday (Looking for Vikings and Gophers QB progress) edition: Wha' Happened?

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated November 21st at 12:17pm 283494721

leidnerteddyTeddy Bridgewater turned 22 less than two weeks ago, yet he said this week he is ready to be the face of the franchise for the Adrian Peterson-less Vikings.

In two months, Gophers sophomore QB Mitch Leidner will turn 21, and already he carries the weight of expectations on his shoulders.

These two quarterbacks figure to play a major role in the fortunes of their teams for the rest of this season and the foreseeable future. Neither can do it alone. Both have shown flashes of being good at their respective levels. Both have shown they have a lot of room for improvement.

The fair way to judge each of them for the rest of this year and going forward will not be against the very best established QBs at their respective levels, but rather against themselves.

Are they making progress? That will be the question. Are they learning from their mistakes? That will be the key. Are they evolving to the point that their positives increasingly overtake their negatives? That will be the test.

But we can’t expect them to be what they are not yet — particularly when Bridgewater is playing behind a shaky offensive line and Leidner’s wide receivers remain a question mark.

We can wish that they had taken bigger steps already that might have allowed the Gophers and Vikings to pull off key wins last weekend against Ohio State and the Bears, respectively, but we can’t demand it this week in two more big games against Nebraska and Green Bay. All we can do is watch, wait and evaluate.

TFD: NFL's Broncos are watching videos of animals attacking animals to prep for next game

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated November 20th at 4:31pm 283404931

matthewsIs the NFL violent? The NFL is violent.

Per USA Today, in their defensive meetings the Broncos often watch nature videos. But not so much the ones that depict natural wonders or beautiful lands. They’re more focused on the primal stuff, like watching videos of sharks coming out of the ocean to attack seals.

The shark video was just the latest installment of violent nature videos the Broncos defense has watched this season.

“It’s all aggressive animals going after animals that are not so happy about being pursued,” defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said. “It’s good stuff.”

So yes, never forget that professional football is a brutally violent sport for which watching animals killing animals is good preparation.

Former Shattuck hockey star and current NHL player Jack Johnson says he's bankrupt, blames parents

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated November 20th at 12:41pm 283374401

jackjohnsonHere’s a bizarre and interesting story from the Columbus Dispatch about Jack Johnson, who played prep hockey for the elite Shattuck-St. Mary’s program in Faribault:

On the morning of Oct. 7, two days before the Blue Jackets opened the 2014-15 season, Jack Johnson left his Ferrari parked in the garage of his Dublin apartment and drove his BMW to a federal courthouse Downtown to file for bankruptcy. Johnson has earned more than $18 million during his nine-year NHL career, not including the $5 million he will be paid this season by the Blue Jackets.

Almost all of the money is gone, and some of his future earnings have already been promised — which is why Johnson, surrounded by a new team of financial advisers and an attorney, signed his financial surrender. The scene was nearly four years in the making, after a string of risky loans at high interest rates; defaults on those loans, resulting in huge fees and even higher interest rates; and three lawsuits against Johnson, two of which have been settled and one that’s pending.

“I’d say I picked the wrong people who led me down the wrong path,” Johnson, a 27-year-old defenseman, told The Dispatch last week. “I’ve got people in place who are going to fix everything now. It’s something I should have done a long time ago.” He has declined to comment further. But sources close to Johnson have told The Dispatch that his own parents — Jack Sr. and Tina Johnson — are among the “wrong people” who led him astray financially.

The story notes that Johnson’s bankruptcy filing lists assets of less than $50K and debts that are in excess of $10 million.

Crazy, sad story of what — according to the reporting in the story — is a case a pro athlete having no idea what to do with all his money and of his parents taking complete advantage of him.

Here’s the link to read the entire piece.

Thursday (Adrian Peterson and Ben Tate) edition: Wha' Happened?

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated November 20th at 10:38am 283354051

bentateFrom early on in 2007 through Week 1 of 2014, with the exception of a handful of games missed because of injury, you never had to ask what the Vikings’ plan was at running back. It started with Adrian Peterson, and that was as close to 100 percent of the answer as any team could hope. Sure, he had backups and the Vikings employed third down/blocking backs, but Peterson was the man. There was no running back by committee, unless one man can be a committee.

The Cleveland Browns have had no such luxury since 2007. Since that season and including this one, six different players have lead the team in rushing: Jamal Lewis, Jerome Harrison, Peyton Hillis, Trent Richardson, Willis McGahee and Terrance West.

West is the last name on the list and is fewer than 100 yards ahead of Ben Tate, who was signed to perhaps be the team’s feature back this season. Tate, of course, was released this week and picked up by the Vikings, who are almost certainly now going to be without Peterson for the rest of 2014.

Beyond that, the Vikings might be moving into a new era where they treat running backs like the Browns, Patriots, Broncos and so many other teams do these days: cycling through a bunch of them in the course of seasons and employing a committee approach during games. Peterson will be 30 before his NFL-imposed suspension is lifted, and as freakish an athlete as he is, NFL running backs have expiration dates and Peterson’s contract makes it very convenient (and prudent) to cut him or trade him before the 2015 season. Peterson’s off-field problems, in fact, could strangely make it easier in a way for the Vikings to sever ties without having it be purely a football or business decision.

But as encouraging as Jerick McKinnon’s rookie season has been at times, he is not Peterson. No one person is going to replace Peterson, and perhaps no one person should. Because as nice as it was for the Vikings to pencil him in for 20-25 carries a game for as long as they did, and for Peterson to deliver in the way that he did, today’s NFL does not demand a dominant running back. It demands an effective running game and an efficient, playmaking passing game.

There was only one Peterson, a gifted athlete who willed the Vikings to the playoffs in 2012 with a breathtaking season. There will always be a guy like Tate — with six career 100-yard games and two seasons over 750 yards to his credit — to grab in free agency or off the waiver wire to bolster a committee.

One is a convenient luxury (Peterson alone rushed for 4.5 yards per carry last season). One is an effective reality (the Vikings, primarily without Peterson this year, have averaged 4.6 yards per rushing attempt this year).

Now the Vikings are on the other side and might stay there for a long time.

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